By and  on February 6, 2008

PARIS — Fluorescent fabrics and chic bohemian cuts will be de rigueur for fall, according to buyers attending the Prêt à Porter and Who's Next apparel trade shows.

Elongated silhouettes, graphic and floral prints and sleeveless vests, especially in fur or leather, were also touted as key fashion elements for the season at the two shows, which ended their four-day runs at the Porte de Versailles here on Jan. 27.

Faced with a slowing economy, retailers were in a cautious mood, which compelled them to play it safe when it came to placing orders. Meanwhile, an overwhelming offering of merchandise prompted retailers to demand that brands return to a clear message.

"Too many brands have diversified their offering to become lifestyle brands," said Cedric Charbit, vice director of the buying office and general merchandise manager of women's fashion at French department store chain Printemps. "Only very well established brands should take the lifestyle route. Brands that focus on just one product are very interesting right now."

Better purchasing comes from edited, clear collections. Charbit lauded single-item brands such as American Vintage, Used, Yumi and Laurence Heller, while he noted Berenice, Iro, BA & SH and Paul & Joe Sister had strong wider offerings.

Retailers agreed boutique brands should offer more in-season merchandise for immediate orders.

Meanwhile, unusual weather had impacted sales and tempered spending for Ryuki Ikegaya, fashion director at Japanese specialty retailer United Arrows.

"Winter was very late in Japan," he said. "It was very warm, so nobody bought coats."

Ikegaya and Charbit bemoaned a lack of novelty at Prêt a Porter.

"The offering was too diverse," said Ludivine Grégoire, whose store in New York's West Village, Ludivine, specializes in the latest Parisian styles.

Nevertheless, with unfavorable exchange rates for American retailers, Grégoire said certain exhibitors were making efforts to reduce margins, as well as restrictions on minimum orders.

"I buy what I need, but the product must justify the price, especially with the exchange rates as they are," said Grégoire, adding that elongated silhouettes, especially floor-length skirts and sweaters worn to the knee, punctuated many collections."We're reducing our budget," said Sandrine Ravon, owner of Elle Pour Elle in Saint Etienne, France. "The middle market doesn't sell anymore. Customers want boutique brands. We buy less, but the overall product is far more creative and of better quality."

Ravon, who shopped at American Vintage, said tunics and layering were key directions for fall, as were graphic prints.

"It's very similar to this winter, there are no big changes," said Marion Taillandrier, owner of Le Boudoir, an Aix-en-Provence, France-based boutique carrying brands such as American Retro and Maje. "There are still lots of dresses, but they're less baby. Next winter, women won't hesitate to don whites, bright blues and yellows."

Exhibitors reported good business overall, despite a low turnout of Americans and international buyers.

"Company sales were up 60 percent over last year," said David Pariente, president of American Retro, Zoë Tee's and its budding denim line, My Lonely Jeans, presented at Who's Next. "Buyers are counting their pennies. They are being very careful."

To that end, Pariente extended its basics category.

"It's important to follow retailers' buying habits and react in an intelligent manner," added Pariente, whose fall collection boasts prints and touches of fluorescent.

Also at Who's Next, Munich-based men's wear designer Hannes Roether presented his debut women's collection, a selection of sharply constructed jackets made from workwear fabrics with leather trims and elegant knits.

"The economy isn't favorable for new brands, but I had a very solid base with my men's line and a loyal clientele who has been demanding a women's collection for many years," said Roether. "Customers are looking for clean elegant shapes."

At Prêt à Porter, Heimstone, designed by budding French designers Delphine Delafon and Alix Petit, spun an ethnic theme into their fall dress-centric collection, taking inspiration from Native American folklore.

"The show has been very good so far. We're seeing mostly European retailers; however, the few Americans that are here are key retailers," said Petit.

Impacted by the growth of sustainable fashion areas at European shows, including White in Milan, So Ethic showcased 63 labels, down from 90 last season. New brands included London-based Amana, with silk dresses and hemp coats that were a hit with independent stores in France. At Nanduti, organic cotton dresses in bright colors proved popular with Japanese buyers. Veteran exhibitors said the show wasn't as busy as previous seasons."It's fairly slow," said Migmar Tsering at Pema New York.

Browsing for her eco-fashion store Dupleks in Paris, Rachel Rodriguez lamented a lack of novel design.

"More and more people are jumping on the ethical bandwagon who don't come from the fashion industry," she said.

Others were upbeat. Tara Somers and Eileen Moran from ethical fashion agency Origin Twenty Three, which imports European brands to the U.S., lauded Noir's Black collection.

"There's such a demand for sustainable and beautifully designed products," said Somers. "It's moving on from a trend to a movement."

Meanwhile, eco-brands continue to up the fashion quotient. Underwear line Pants to Poverty has collaborated with Katharine Hamnett on tiger-printed lingerie, out in June, and is in talks with high street retailers for future collaborations.

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus